"That's a great book," he said. I looked over at a guy who was probably in his early twenties. I was holding a copy of The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene. "I've heard a lot about it," I replied. I noticed the book he was holding had something to do with theistic evolution.
"Have you heard of The Language of God by Francis Collins?" I asked. He had and spoke highly of it. The conversation continued on like this and, though he spoke positively of a few Christian authors, I could tell he probably identified as an atheist.
I asked him his thoughts about some of the other books in front of us, particularly about the Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins ones. "Oh, they're great scientists but terrible philosophers, they don't represent atheists well, in my opinion."
"Have you read the God Delusion?" he asked. I told him I had. "I just can't stand his tone," he continued. I agreed that it lacked humility.
I was intrigued at this point. It's not every day you come across a stranger who wants to talk about faith and science. I kept asking questions, "So what do you do for a living?"
He explained he was studying evolutionary biology with a minor in philosophy. "Well, I'm neither a biologist nor a philosopher, just really interested." We both laughed.
My new friend, TJ, explained to me that he grew up in a very traditional Southern Baptist church. I got the impression his church was a science-or-faith group. You can guess most of the rest of the story. It involved a complete deconstruction.
What struck me about TJ, though, was his fair balance in his current pursuit. He had been convinced the idea of science and god were compatible but had been stuck in a somewhat hopeful agnostic position.
"I want to be fair in my studying," he said. "I'll read atheist authors, Christian authors, all sorts of philosophy, and I'll weigh what I find." I told him I respected his approach and shared a little of my own story.
Unfortunately, my next appointment time crept up faster than I wished, and I had to leave. There's no smooth way to ask a random dude if you can get his number, so I hate to say that TJ and I may never talk again. I am encouraged, though, because I think my new agnostic friend is actually going about this the right way:
Keep searching, my friend. It's a worthy journey. I'm grateful we crossed paths.